Unemployed People’s Movement Press Statement
The Unemployed People’s Movement will not be Participating in the So-Called ‘People’s Space’ at the BRICS Meeting in Durban
The Unemployed People’s Movement will not be participating in the so-called ‘People’s Space’ at the BRICS meeting in Durban.
Our Umlazi branch received a phone call recently informing us that buses were being provided for us to send our members to the so-called ‘People’s Space’ at the Centre for Civil Society at UKZN. We were instructed to mobilise to fill the buses.
We made it clear that we will not be participating in this space. We were given no role in the process leading up to the BRICS meeting and we have been given no role in planning the so-called ‘People’s Space’ or in its management.
The experience of grassroots movements at the so-called ‘People’s Space’ at the COP17 meeting in Durban, also hosted by the Centre for Civil Society, was terrible. We were not given any role in the planning of that space. We were just bused in. We were given inferior accommodation and food. We found that our role was just to sit and listen to overseas experts talking to us. There was a protest by the movements against the organisers of that meeting. They responded by buying us fried chicken but did not take our concerns seriously and discuss a better way forward for the future. This was one more insult.
This was not the first time that movements have been expressing their concerns about these NGO organised meetings. Movements have been raising concerns about these meetings for many years but we have either been ignored or criminalised by the NGOs and academics. We are highly aware that when grassroots movements walked out of the Social Movements Indaba meeting, also held by the Centre for Civil Society, at UKZN in 2006 they were called ‘criminals’ in the media and have been attacked by the NGOs and academics ever since. We are prepared for the same treatment.
In the days of the WSSD in Johannesburg grassroots movements had lots of supporters but were organisationally weak. All that the NGOs had to do to secure popular support was to provide buses and hand out T-shirts for movements like the Landless People’s Movement. But Movements are much stronger now in organisational terms and those days are gone.
These so-called ‘People’s Spaces’ are really NGO and academic spaces where the role of grassroots activists is just to be bussed in to listen to experts in exchange for a few crumbs for the movement leaders. The reason that we condemn this is that we subscribe to Black Consciousness. The Black Consciousness movement emerged in 1968 when black students walked out of a NUSAS meeting in Grahamstown because whites were doing all the thinking and talking while blacks were playing a passive role. Today the situation is just as bad or even worse in these so-called ‘People’s Spaces’. Therefore today we continue to walk out of spaces where we are disrespected and are only being bussed in to legitimate other people’s agendas.
Also, we experience these so called ‘reality tours’ as if we are being treated as animals in a zoo. We have made it clear that we will not be collaborating with so-called ‘reality tours’ in our communities. We insisted that a tour scheduled to take place in Umlazi today be cancelled.
The NGOs and donors are trying to control and commercialise our struggles at these international meetings. If they want to work with us in the future they will need to do so on a respectful and fully democratic basis. We want partnership and not domination and exploitation.
We discussed our position on this matter at the Democratic Left Front national steering committee meeting in Johannesburg last week.
We remain committed to the struggle against imperialism but that struggle needs to be rooted in democratic practices.
Bheki Buthelezi, Unemployed People’s Movement (KwaZulu-Natal) 072 639 9898
Ayanda Kota, Unemployed People’s Movement (Eastern Cape) 078 625 6462